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Finding Personal Purpose at Work
Discovering meaning is the business of spirituality, and business needs spirituality more than ever today.
Discovering meaning is the business of spirituality, and business needs spirituality more than ever today. Business consultants, gurus and authors abound with theories on how to motivate employees, but few seem to understand what people really want. Above all, people want a sense of personal purpose; they crave "calling" as well as careers. The short-term bottom line has zapped most meaning out of business. More than half of us would change jobs if given a chance. Looking for purpose, businesspeople today are disillusioned, discouraged and unmotivated, and many don't know where to turn. Our hard-earned careers, sometimes our whole lives, seem meaningless. In desperation, we cry out, "Show me your plan!" unaware that the plan is within us, a seed planted at our birth. Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung believed our primary task in life was to become the person we were born to be. By reclaiming authentic self we find real meaning in our work and our lives. But the search for authentic self is only one step toward discovering our purpose. Self must then be put to service for others. "...we begin and end in authenticity, and in between, our task is to find ways to make that authenticity relevant to the world," writes Parker J. Palmer in Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. Our purpose does not necessarily have to be grand. "In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love," says Mother Teresa. Some say there is no such thing as finding purpose; our purpose will find us. But I feel we can't absolve all responsibility. Discovering our mission may require some detective work. In my work with clients searching for a sense of meaning, I have identified four areas to explore: One: Look at your life. Life is constantly reflecting back at us who we are but are we paying attention? Paying attention to our nighttime and daytime dreams, synchronicities, natural inclinations, continual intuitions and even physical symptoms often can show us the way. Dawna Markova in her book I Will Not Live an Unlived Life: Reclaiming Purpose and Passion suggests asking four questions that spell out the word "live:" L: What do I love? I: What are my inner gifts and talents? V: What do I value? E: What are the environments that bring out the best in me? In addition to Markova's four questions, we may want to ask ourselves: What would I do if I knew I couldn't fail? If I suddenly won a million dollars, would I still be doing the work I am doing and if not what would I do? Finally, why am I not doing it now? If I knew I was going to die in a year, how would I spend the next 365 days? Of the wide range of assessment tools available to help identify style and interests, my favorite is the Birkman Method. Birkman provides a graphic four-dimensional portrait of interests and goals, usual style, underlying needs and behavior under stress. Two: Inventory your skills. Aristotle said finding one's purpose is merely a matter of knowing where one's talents and the needs of the world intersect. Ask yourself: What activities feel effortless? When do I really shine? What environment brings out the best in me? What would I like to leave behind as my legacy? Business coach and author Laura Berman Forgang challenges us not to look so much at what we have done as what we have been. She suggests asking: What have employees and coworkers come to rely on me for? How have people used me? Who have I been for them (for example, truth teller, catalyst, creative or advisor)? What roles do I play most often (teacher, sage, rebel, healer, nurturer, voice of reason)? Finally she recommends asking five people (professionally/personally) who they see us being to others and how they see us making a difference. Three: Monitor your energy. Everything we do either gives us energy or robs us of it. Fulfilling our purpose should be energizing not draining. And it should make us happy. Vocation should be "the place where your deep gladness meets the world's deep need," according to popular spiritual writer and novelist Frederick Buechner. Ask yourself: What activities do you love to do? When do you find yourself losing track of time? To what and to whom do you find yourself being drawn? What qualities would you like to develop, possess and express? Four: Examine your childhood. Poet and writer David Whyte says that somewhere in the biography of our childhood is a moment where we felt the world calling and beckoning to us. In examining your childhood you might ask: What were your favorite stories or fairy tales? What were some of your favorite fantasies? What did you want to be when you grew up? What did you love to do? If after studying your life, skills, energy and childhood, you are still unsure of your purpose, be patient. Most callings are revealed gradually and only when we are ready to receive them. Even so, we get a little closer to discovering our mission each time we make a choice to be authentic.